Thursday, March 3, 2005, 1:39 p.m.
‘I know you’ve never been his biggest fan,’ Dale from Middletown says, his tone spiced with agitation. ‘But show the man some goshdarn respect, is all I’m sayin’. He’s earned it.’
‘I do respect him, Dale, and thank you for the call,’ Trip Seymour responds as the bumper music begins to creep in. ‘I’ve always said I respect the man. But all of this is a bit much, isn’t it? Jerry’s a great guy, no one’s arguing that, but you don’t name arenas after great guys. It’s an honor reserved for legends and winners, and I’m sorry, but Coach L. is neither.’ Trip’s producer holds a finger in the air and twirls it around as an intern slides a piece of ad copy in front of him.
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‘You’re listening to the Trip Seymour Show, on Cincinnati’s home for sports talk, WSAI AM 1360,’ a recorded baritone voice bellows as Trip pulls his headphones from his ears and makes a beeline for the bathroom.
Trip had been languishing away hosting overnights on a fledgling Dayton AM radio station for years after he’d earned a broadcasting degree from Southern Ohio. Every now and again, he’d get an invite to fill-in whenever a host at one of the bigger Cincinnati stations called in sick or was on vacation, but the gigs never seemed to raise his profile like he’d hoped.
One day while guest hosting during the February doldrums, when there wasn’t much Reds or Bengals to talk about, Trip had been trying to fill a segment talking about the recent Southern Ohio-Xavier game – a once interesting rivalry that had turned one-sided in recent years. He took a call from someone complaining that Jerry’s uniform policy was hurting Southern Ohio basketball’s recruiting, and Trip launched into a diatribe defending it.
‘Can you picture Larry Bird wearing the parachute shorts these kids are wearing? It looks like they’re wearing skirts. And listen, I’m not some crotchety old kook, OK? I used to wear bellbottoms. But I’m sorry, this is ridiculous. I’m with Coach L. one-hundred and ten percent on this.’
Sparked by his rant, the phone lines lit up and a debate caught fire, even drawing some national attention. Trip was invited back to guest host more and more, eventually being offered a drive-time slot on Cincinnati’s third most popular AM station. But his dream come true became a nightmare when the show’s numbers fell below the sagging ratings of the host he was hired to replace. Desperate to make a splash, he started disparaging the beloved Coach L. as often as he could, the man he’d gotten his big break by defending.
‘Are we seriously worshiping a guy who almost won a big game, once?’ he asked during a show that garnered the highest ratings the station had seen in months. ‘I mean, I’m a Southern Ohio alum, and frankly, that’s embarrassing. Lagerstadt needs to go, I’m sorry.’
He quickly became a man listeners loved to hate, which spiked the ratings. Railing against Coach L. and calling for his ouster became a staple of Trip’s show, and the success of this contrarian position led him to adopt similar stances on a number of topics. ‘Michael Jordan is a quitter.’ ‘Pete Rose is a scumbag who doesn’t belong in Cooperstown.’ ‘Ken Anderson was overrated.’ His daily goal became to anger whoever tuned in, which was a winning formula up until The Streak.
‘I feel for the man,’ Trip said after the twenty-first loss in a row. ‘Believe me, I do. But if you can’t do the job, you can’t do the job. I don’t care if your kid died. That’s sad, but life goes on. And if you can’t win, you’re no good as a coach.’
The station was deluged with angry calls and letters, and Trip was fired from Cincinnati’s third most popular AM station. He spent a week drinking whiskey in dive bars, loathing himself for the callous things he’d said in the name of ratings. These contemplative regrets probably would’ve carried on for a few more weeks, maybe even longer, if he hadn’t been offered the morning slot on Cincinnati’s most popular AM sports talk station – the flagship home of the Reds and Bengals. Trip picked up right where he left off.
Staring at himself in the bathroom mirror, Trip pulls a few sheets of tan paper towels from the dispenser and wipes his forehead, which is drenched in sweat, despite the studio being so chilly it often required additional layers, even in the winter. Anti-Coach L. rants had been buttering Trip’s bread for years, and had become second nature to him. But keeping it up on the eve of the man’s retirement was a bit much, and even he knew that.
Trip pooled some cold water into his cupped hands and splashed it on his face before dashing back to the studio. He slid into his chair and slipped the headphones over his ears just as his producer pointed at him and the on-air light glowed red.
‘Alright, we’re back, this is the Trip Seymour Show on AM 1360, the flagship station for your Reds and Bengals,’ he opened, a silence continuing after the bumper music faded out. Normally, Trip had a prepared paragraph or two to spout off to begin every segment, but now found himself unprepared and rattled. ‘Let’s take some calls.’
‘Jerome in Custerville,’ Trip said, parroting what his producer had just said into his headphones. ‘You’re on the air.’
‘Trip, old buddy, how are ya?’
It took a second or two for the familiar voice to register, but once it did, Trip could hear his heart thump and feel his temples pulse. He pressed the mute key with a quivering finger and cleared his throat in an attempt to prevent his voice from cracking like a teenager in the throes of puberty.
‘Coach,’ he finally said after regaining the footing of his charlatan radio voice. ‘What a pleasant surprise.’
‘It’s been awhile, I figured I should give you a call, see how you’re doing.’ He could almost see Jerry’s uncharacteristic cheek-bunching grin through the phone, which put Trip at ease and terrified him all at once.
‘Well, Coach, I’m glad you did,’ Trip replied, trembling like a drunk in need of a drink. ‘Good to have you on the program.’ Jerry said nothing, Trip’s cocksure persona wilting away with every second of fizzling dead air. ‘So…you, uh, ready for tomorrow? Big day.’
‘Let me ask you something,’ Jerry started, clearing his throat. ‘Do you even like sports?’
‘My God Almighty, the way you talk, watching a game sounds like getting a root canal. Michael Jordan scores 24, you’re mad ’cause you think he could’ve scored 25. Every little thing sends your blood pressure through the roof. I know guys worked on the railroad their whole lives that liked their jobs more than you seem to.’
After the few first seconds of dead air, Trip’s producer stretched his lips out like a frog, peaking his eye brows and bunching his shoulders. A silent ‘Well?’ from the other side of the glass.
‘Well, Coach, I-‘
‘If you ask me, you’d be better off in some other profession. Find something that makes you happy, Trip. You only get so many days, my friend.’
Trip could hear a faint chuckle as the static-fuzzed click of the phone being hung up rang in his headphones.